Information Security Oversight Office Releases its Annual Report to the President

Today, our Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) released online its Report to the President for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. This annual report covers government agencies’ security classification activities, shares cost estimates for these activities, and provides an update on the Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) program. This annual report was mandated by Executive Order 13526, Classified National Security Information.

ISOO 2015 Annual Report








Declassification highlights from this FY 2015 report include:

  • A 14 percent increase in original classification activity, for a 2015 total of 53,425 decisions.
  • A 32 percent decrease in derivative classification action, down to 52,778,354 decisions.
  • Under automatic, systematic, and discretionary declassification review, agencies reviewed 87,192,858 pages and declassified 36,779,589 pages of historically valuable records. This was a 35 percent increase in the number of pages reviewed and 32 percent increase in the number of pages declassified.
  • Agencies reviewed 391,103 pages under mandatory declassification review and declassified 240,717 pages in their entirety, declassified 109,349 pages in part, and retained classification of 41,037 pages in their entirety.


ISOO continues to monitor agencies’ self-assessments of their classified information programs. While many agency reports show improvement, others are lacking. ISOO will continue to help agencies with these assessments to ensure compliance.

Controlled Unclassified Information program:

  • ISOO continued to advance its policy development strategy, as its submitted proposed Federal CUI rule (the future 32 Code of Federal Regulations part 2002) underwent extensive agency and, after its publication in the Federal Register, public comment.
  • ISOO continued its CUI Program appraisal process to assist executive branch agencies in preparing for implementation by providing agency planners with a baseline.
  • ISOO also coordinated a timeline for phased implementation of the CUI Program for the executive branch, which will be provided to agencies at the time of the regulation’s issuance.

Industrial Security:

  • The National Industrial Security Program Policy Advisory Committee (NISPPAC) developed procedures for implementing an insider threat program, and continued to advance the government-industry partnership.
  • ISOO contributed significant support to the administration’s cyber security information sharing initiatives, guiding NISP partner agencies through the creation of novel risk management processes made effective as part of E. O. 13691 “Promoting Private Sector Cyber Security Information Sharing.”
  • The NISPPAC also focused on the challenges concerning the personnel security clearance vetting process and the methodology for authorizing information systems to process, store and transmit classified information.

The Information Security Oversight Office, established in 1978, is responsible to the President for overseeing the Government-wide security classification program, and receives policy and program guidance from the National Security Council. ISOO has been part of the National Archives and Records Administration since 1995.

I am very proud of the work of our ISOO staff in ensuring that the Government protects and provides proper access to information to advance the national and public interest.

Happy Birthday, Beatrix Potter!

The light-pink, paper-board cover of the first edition of The Tailor of Gloucester published by Potter and printed in London in 1902

July 28, 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Helen Beatrix Potter in Kensington, London. Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) is best known as the author and illustrator of children’s classics like The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. These delightful stories, set in the English countryside, were originally drawn and written as greeting cards and letters to the children of Potter’s friends. Beginning in 1900, Potter started sending her stories to publishers, but after six rejected submissions, she published the books on her own. As part of the John MacKay Shaw Childhood in Poetry Collection, FSU Special Collections has one of the original Beatrix Potter books: The Tailor of Gloucester printed in London by Strangeways and Sons in 1902.

Letters to friend’s children were often the inspiration for Potter’s stories

After the success of her self-published children’s books, Beatrix Potter was picked up by the publishing house Frederick Warne & Co, who had originally turned down her manuscripts. In addition to the first edition of The Tailor of Gloucester, FSU Special Collections has over 100 works by Beatrix Potter in our rare book collections. The Gwen P. and Allan C. Reichert Beatrix Potter Collection contains biographies of Beatrix Potter and several editions of The Peter Rabbit stories, as well as adaptation pop-up books, cookbooks, coloring books, and more. A corresponding archival collection with Beatrix Potter related toys and ephemera will also soon be available to researchers.

Robert Moses’ Ten Commandments

Neither Moses nor Yahweh chose to elaborate at length on the Ten Commandments, leaving that impossible errand instead to the prophets, politicians, and hoi polloi of the millennia that followed. Perhaps His authority was thought to suffice. In this recording, the other Moses—Robert Moses, the seemingly but briefly omnipotent commissioner-of-everything New York—offers the graduates of New York Law School his own “decalogue,” his ten commandments, with a pointed defense for each, aimed to guide the young barristers as they begin their careers in his New York City. You could almost call it sacrilegious, but then Moses was never a particularly religious man.

Though Moses declares that he is “no Polonius offering a pompous, condescending philosophy to youth,” he doth protest too much; in this speech at least, he pretty much does exactly that. Here are his first nine commandments, in his words:

  1. Have pride in your city
  2. Be suspicious of lurid criticism, baseless disclosures, and easy remedies
  3. There are no easy fixes
  4. Belong to a party, but don’t be a violent partisan
  5. In government, view every dogma with skepticism
  6. Never fear to be in a minority
  7. Beware of dogmas about equality
  8. Beware of extraneous issues, appeals to race, creed, color, and residence
  9. Try your best to guard against appeals to bias and prejudice in whatever form, ancient grudges, bygone feuds, and what the poet called “old unhappy far off things and battles long ago.”

At turns shruggingly true, trite, vague, debatable, and/or false, and as a whole, repetitive and often contradictory. However, no more trite-and-true these days than the original Ten, which we’ve now had centuries to internalize. It’s when he elaborates on these that the true purpose of his commandments is revealed: this decalogue is yet another broadside attack on the growing mass of men and women finding fault not just in his methods, but in his very philosophy of city making—a defensive attack from a wronged man on his multitude of benighted “critics.” In this too he has company; Yahweh could be pretty defensive as well.

He spends the bulk of his speech on his tenth commandment—on the importance of the proper use of language—though it is difficult to distill his wisdom from his words:

   10.  “Finally, something about speaking and writing our native language…”

It reads less like a commandment than a placeholder inserted into an early draft, some lorem ipsum meant to be rewritten as some pithy yadda yadda he never got around to committing to script. It would be wrong to accuse a man as industrious as Moses of being lazy, but, well, he had his priorities.

Make what you will of his writing advice, but we’ve listened to dozens of Moses’ speeches here at the WNYC archives, and researched quite a few of his writings, arguably enough to give us some insight into how he approached the craft in practice. Distilled to its essence, Moses’ approach to writing consists largely of inserting as many allusions to classic literature and letters as possible—directed at the narrow contingent in whatever audience that might “get” them—into verbose, combative prose shot with broad aim at anyone who dare criticize his vision. The allusions? Blink and you’ll miss them. And if they don’t scan? So be it. For Moses, your philistinism would render you unworthy of judging men of his brilliance. It’s best you step aside and let the man do his work. In practice, it can tend toward tedium, and the relentless stacking of obscure allusions to the peril of quality prose is a common habit in those who take pride in their erudition, one that he frequently shares (I am often guilty myself). But I think he has a recognizable talent for it, and more often than not his approach falls on the right side of listenable. It’s almost fun.

“Pile Pelion on Ossa”

 We made an earlier web piece exhaustively annotating one of his speeches, so we won’t do it again here (FYI – the poet in commandment nine is Wordsworth). But I would like to comment on one allusion that sent me into a frenzied evening of thumb-heavy research: “Pile Pelion on Ossa.” It is an idiom, not currently quick to the tongue, that refers to a tale from Greek mythology. In that myth, the Aloadae—Greek giants Otus and Ephialtes—attempted to storm the stronghold of the Gods by piling Mount Pelion and Mount Ossa atop Mount Olympus. They failed. According to the OED, it means “Add a difficulty or task to something that is already difficult or onerous.” I’m not sure that Moses’ usage of phrase is perfectly captured in that definition, but I’ll defer to Moses’ superior education; perhaps there is something in the tale that is apropos to the day’s commencement missing to the passive listener, other than doubling down on the mountain imagery of Moses’ commandments. As much as the idiom is not in common use, its literary pedigree is unassailable. The curious may reference Homer (Odyssey, Book 11) and Hamlet (Act V, Scene 1), Virgil (Georgics, Book 1) and Ovid (Metamorphoses, Book 1), and doubtless countless others. 

I’m not sure how or when it became an idiom, but it did, eventually settling into “Pile Pelion on Ossa.” Those who have listened to the audio above will have noted that Moses reverses the order, piling “Ossa on Pelion.” This is not a mistake, not quite. Homer, likely prioritizing poetic form above the strict rendering of myth, seems to have reversed the logical order, and its his version that is followed in the surviving phrase, which Moses, following Virgil, corrects. As Classicist Philip R. Hardie recounts:

“Virgil, doubtless attentive to the fact that the Homeric text had two lines earlier specified Olympus as the object of these monsters, questioned the reasoning of ending up with Olympus at the bottom of the heap and gave us the present lines: thrice they tried to put Ossa on Pelion and Pelion to roll on leafy Olympus – in other words he reversed the Homeric order.”

Alexander Pope had this to say about the literary gifts of Homer and Virgil: “Homer scatters with a generous profusion, Virgil bestows with a careful magnificence.”  He actually had a lot more to say about the two, and I could readily be accused of cherry picking this particular sentence to belabor a point, but I feel there is something telling in Moses’ preference for Virgil here, something revealed in just those lines. Moses’ public works and words almost always display a “careful magnificence”: the highways and structures, and essays and speeches he is responsible for having created are nothing if not grand, letter-perfect hymns to his vision and his estimable ethic and knowledge. But they lack the generous profusion, the beauty of the human scale, that makes literature sing and cities beam with life.

His city and his speeches are meticulous and stiffly elegant, and often ambitious and imaginative, but they are unloved and unloving. They exist to be scanned on paper, as blueprints and scripts, where they can achieve their own dubious and cold perfection, rather than to be lived-in and heard, where we can achieve ours.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150454
Municipal archives id: T9278

Records Management Self-Assessment

I am pleased to announce that the 2015 Records Management-Self Assessment (RMSA) report is now available.

Laurence Brewer, Chief Records Officer for the U.S. Government, said, “This is our seventh RMSA, and we are very pleased to see real progress being made by agencies. We expect this improvement to continue, especially as agencies continue to work towards achieving the goals in the Managing Government Records Directive.”

Some highlights from the 2015 data include:

  • There continues to be gradual improvement in overall scores.
  • RMSA findings and recommendations are consistent with the goals and requirements of the Managing Government Records Directive (OMB M-12-18). We believe improvement will continue as the requirements of M-12-18 are implemented and as our records management oversight activities persist.
  • The majority of agencies indicated their records management staff have oversight over records created at the highest levels of their agency (i.e., those of the agency head and appropriate advisors and executive staff).
  • Agencies have policies and procedures in place for email. However, there is little or no auditing for compliance.
  • A majority of agencies are planning to implement the Capstone approach for managing their email.
  • Fewer than half of agencies report having records management staff participating in the design, development, and implementation of new electronic information systems. Of those who participate, only a quarter have approval authority.
building survey

Surveying the records management landscape across the Federal Government.
“Building Survey,” National Archives Identifier 32200321

We use this annual self-assessment to determine whether Federal agencies are compliant with statutory and regulatory records management requirements as well as to identify trends and areas where further guidance may be necessary.

Federal agencies use the annual self-assessment to identify strong and weak areas of their records management programs and to determine the impact of changes they have made since the previous self-assessment.

As a whole, the data in this report is used to improve records management practices within the Federal Government. Records management is the backbone of open government; effective records management by all Federal agencies ensures the preservation and access of the permanently valuable records of the Federal Government.

If you have any questions regarding the RMSA, please feel free to leave a comment here on the blog or send an email to

Happy Casey Stengel Day!

Casey Stengel’s birthday is celebrated in New York, although the date (July 22, 1965) is not, in fact, Stengel’s birthday, as he is quick to note. Indeed the manager of the hapless Mets is quick to note everything in this amusing “raw” tape from a stage-managed publicity event. Stengel and reporters are waiting for the arrival of Mayor Wagner, who will present the (still) 74-year-old manager with a proclamation in honor of his 75th birthday. (Presumably Stengel will be on the road then.) While they wait, reporters banter with Stengel, who launches into his patented stream-of-consciousness responses, listing all of fellow-player Babe Herman’s children’s careers, opining that Mickey Mantle is “an amazing man for a cripple,” and promising one reporter “if they have cake I’ll cut you a nice big piece of it.” The only serious note is Stengel’s future with the Mets, who are enduring another awful season. It’s clear he is going to retire but has been told not to announce the news yet. He tries explaining that he has been “building for the future,” which is why the current team struggles. He reminisces about his playing days, decides on the greatest pitchers he faced (Walter Johnson in the American League, Grover Alexander in the National), all while displaying the crafty mix of street-savvy and seeming buffoonery that made him a fan favorite over the years. Eventually, the mayor arrives and there is a brief ceremony with much posing for photos. In the midst of the raillery he is asked again, “Is this your last year?” Turning serious for a moment, he answers, “It should be,” before going on to praise the young Ed Kranepool and Ron Swoboda. The tape ends as it began, with the milling murmuring of reporters, and Stengel gamely entertaining anyone willing to listen.

Casey Stengel was born in 1890. A fine player, his skills were often overshadowed by his on- and off-the-field antics. One of his most famous stunts occurred in 1918 when he returned to Ebbets Field after having been traded to Pittsburgh. As the New York Times describes:

Catcalls cascaded down from the stands. His reputation as a prankster and a clown already established, Stengel that day marched to home plate as the hooting intensified, bowed with courtliness to the fans in the grandstand, and doffed his cap. Out flew a sparrow. He had given them the bird.

After fourteen years in the majors, Stengel managed a variety of clubs, none very successfully, until his amazing run with the Yankees during which he won seven World Series. His time with the Mets was more famous for the team’s inept play and the manager’s “Stengel-isms,” although one could argue, as he does here, the foundation was being laid for the eventual world champion team of 1969. More importantly, Stengel’s “Old Perfesser” persona endeared the new team to the city. Sportswriter Robert Lipsyte, describes watching Stengel during the 1962 spring training:

He could also be incredibly kind, particularly sensitive to the disabled. He would unselfconsciously offer up his seamed face to the questioning fingers of blind fans and trot up the grandstand on his bandy legs to patiently chat with people in wheelchairs. Once, while I was talking to Stengel, a middle-aged man approached, dragging a sullen teenager. This was clearly a troubled son and dad. The man claimed to have played for Stengel years ago in the minors. Stengel took his time, regaled them with tales of the father’s prowess and promised the kid a Mets contract if he got as good as his old man. As they left with arms around each other, Stengel rolled his eyes at me and shrugged. He had no memory of the man.

As a manager, Stengel is credited with regularizing the practice of platooning players. He had difficult relationships with his teams, particularly the Yankee squads. As Bill Bishop, writing for SABR (the Society for American Baseball Research) reports:

Casey’s explanation for his managerial success was, “Keep the five guys who hate you away from the five who are undecided.”

As for his bizarre way of answering questions, some of his musings have the quality of Zen koans, as evidenced by this well-known yet essentially unknowable remark: 

“There comes a time in every man’s life, and I’ve had plenty of them.” 

Stengel did retire in August of 1965. He lived long enough, though, to follow and, typically, name the “Amazin’ ” Met team of 1969.

Casey Stengel died in 1975.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150005
Municipal archives id: T778

Electric Eels Bunking with Tigers: The Itinerant New York Aquarium

On October 1st, 1941 Castle Garden in Battery Park shut its doors as the New York Aquarium. It would take sixteen years for the aquarium to find a new home at Coney Island.

Operating under the aliases West Battery, Castle Garden and Castle Clinton over its 208 year life span, the building has served as a fort, grand ballroom, spa, gateway for millions of immigrants and, today, a national monument. Images of the Aquarium at Castle Garden show finely dressed patrons staring down into pools of water. The aquatic life quite literally jumps out of unusually small enclosures backed with white tile and little natural vegetation, contrary to modern aquatic exhibitions. 

According to William Bridges in A Gathering of Animals: An unconventional history of the New York Zoological Society:

[A Humboldt penguin]…lived in one of the floor pools by day (when it was not hopping out and following its keepers around the building), and at night it was kept in an open pen on the gravel roof. It was the first of what was in later years to be a succession of sea birds—pelicans, cormorants, gulls and the like—that [Director] Dr. Townsend insisted on keeping in the floor pools even though they were (to put it mildly) untidy in their habits, given to making noisome messes, and generally unsuitable for exhibition in a closed and not too well-ventilated building.[1]

Tour of the New York Aquarium at Battery Park

In this tour of the aquarium at Battery Park, you can hear Peter and Wendy, two noisy Sea Lions at feeding time.[2] A pair of waggish WNYC reporters interview Curator Dr. Christopher W. Coates as he describes the building and its inhabitants such as a seven foot long giant grouper, an African Lungfish and the Octopus, “villain of all underwater moving pictures.”

However, the real villain of the Aquarium at Battery Park—at least in the eyes of sentimental New Yorkers—was Parks Commissioner Robert Moses who fought to have the building demolished to facilitate the construction of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. The New York Zoological Society had been managing the aquarium since 1902 and lobbying for assistance from the city to construct a new building since 1911. Thus, the doors to the aquarium were closed with the promise of an entirely new building, and one that was, most importantly, not circular![3]

In a 1941 letter to the New York Times Robert Moses wrote, “…the Aquarium is an ugly wart on the main axis leading straight to the Statue of Liberty—a vista of which future New Yorkers someday will justly be proud.”[4] However, uproar from the public, historic societies, and civic leaders saved the building from demolition and “Castle Clinton” officially became a national monument in 1950.

Stymied by the financial effects of the Great Depression and foreign wars, the New York Aquarium did not re-open until 1957. So what happened to the roughly 10,000 residents at Castle Clinton?

With funding from the city, specimens captured locally were returned to the sea while others were sent to nearby aquariums. A collection of specimens that were rare, valuable and popular were sent to live at the lion house in the Bronx Zoo. A 1942 article in the New York Times describes, “The present collection includes some 2,500 specimens of 104 species. Brilliantly colored tropical fishes were retained from the former collection and are in ‘jewel box’ settings with more elaborate underwater planting and decoration than at the old Aquarium.”[5] This included an Electric Eel exhibition where:

…at intervals during the day a rubber gloved tankman stroked the eel until it discharged its five hundred volts thereby causing a series of neon pips to spell out ELECTRIC EEL, a loudspeaker to crackle with static, and wavy blue lines to flicker across the face of an oscilloscope.

…the exhibition electric eel was not quite so popular with the Lion House keepers. Its tank happened to be directly opposite the compartment occupied by Dacca, the Zoo’s prolific tiger mother. (She had thirty-two cubs between 1948 and 1959.) During several of her pregnancies she took a fierce dislike to the eel, watching it intently and clawing at the wire front of her cage when it rose to the surface to take a gulp of air. For the sake of Dacca’s peace of mind, the eel tank was kept covered during the critical weeks.[6]

Coney Island was long considered the ideal site for the new aquarium, even before the doors were shut to the public at Castle Clinton. Mayor La Guardia saw an opportunity to spread cultural institutions to other boroughs and the site was adjacent to ocean water, yet also accessible to most New Yorkers and tourists. After a decade of planning and fundraising, the cornerstone was laid at Coney Island in 1954. By this time Coney Island had passed its halcyon days as the “Playground of the World” and was planned for residential rezoning.

New York Aquarium Cornerstone Laying Ceremonies

In this recording, Robert Moses posits the New York Aquarium as the symbol of a new family and tourist friendly Coney Island with an amusement section shrunk “to proper limits,” destined to overcome its sordid past: 

Coney was town land owned by the people, given away to crooks for a song, and in a small part recaptured for the public at large expense. It had become, when we took it over under the new charter in 1937, a honky-tonk catch-penny waterfront. That only some 50 acres of receding over-crowded beach. It had a board walk with access underneath it from dubious, miscellaneous structures. Often at high tide there was no beach at all. Coney with its seasonal gaiety, in spite of its accessibility, under the auspices of absentee landlords, was on the way out.

The first stage of a grandiose 6.5 million dollar plan was completed by 1956. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, Fairfield Osborn, president of the New York Zoological Society predicted, “It is the beginning of an institution, which, if we can get the support, which we pray for, hope for and must have, will grow into the most incomparable institution of its kind anywhere in this country, or for that matter, anywhere in the world.” (Listen to the audio at the top of the article.)

The doors were officially opened when Annie, a black footed penguin, served as the ribbon cutter by biting at a wrapped smelt fish. A WNYC reporter described the melee as Annie performed her official duty and children poured past to explore the brand new, permanent home of the New York Aquarium.


Additional recordings:

1965 interview with Dr. Carl Ray, Curator at the New York Aquarium

He discusses the practicality of evolving man to live underwater as a solution to human over-population, “Now the physiological strain on man to do this is going to be solved, we are going to be able to go, there but how many people are going to be even willing to go there?”

Robert Moses speaking to the New York Zoological Society Annual Meeting in 1957

“One thing however we can agree on, that if once more, the long night descends upon the earth, setting us back thousands of years, when the luckiest reincarnationist will inhabit a pterodactyl immune to radioactive fallout, the most priceless evidences of the heroic ascent from clod to man, the hardest to duplicate and replace, will be those which are now exhibited in our great museums here in New York.”


[1] Bridges, William, Gathering of animals: An unconventional history of the New York Zoological Society, 1974, pg. 199

[2] This recording is incomplete and unidentified, but most likely an episode of All Around the Town. The audio has been edited for continuity. 

[3] After taking over as Director of the Aquarium in 1902, Charles H. Townsend drew up several plans to improve Castle Garden for aquatic display and research, however the circular shape of the building proved too prohibitive, in his opinion, and he began lobbying for a new building. 

Bridges, William, Gathering of animals: An unconventional history of the New York Zoological Society, 1974, pg. 192

[4] Moses, Robert, “Mr. Moses and the Aquarium: Tracing Somewhat Tarnish Past, He Insists It Be Banished From Battery”, Letters to The Times, New York Times, February 25th, 1941

[5] “Aquarium Will Open In New Home Today: Fish to Be Shown Among Murals in Lion House of Zoo,” New York Times, February 12th, 1942

[6] Bridges, William, Gathering of animals: An unconventional history of the New York Zoological Society, 1974, pg. 472-473

My special thanks to Madeleine Thompson, Archivist and Digital Resources Manager at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Check out Wild View: An Eye on Wildlife for more history on the Bronx Zoo and the New York Aquarium.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150510
Municipal archives id: LT7646

FOIA Improvement and the FOIA Advisory Committee

On June 30, 2016, President Obama signed the bipartisan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Improvement Act of 2016 into law. This law locks into place many of the Administration’s FOIA policies and initiatives and solidifies the role of the National Archives’ Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) in resolving FOIA disputes between agencies and requesters and improving compliance with FOIA.

President Obama Signs S. 337 FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, June 30, 2016

The law:

  • Codifies the Attorney General’s policy that agencies should release information unless “the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by an exemption” or “disclosure is prohibited by law;”
  • Requires that agencies alert requesters to the availability of agency FOIA Public Liaisons and OGIS to help resolve disputes at several points in the FOIA process;
  • Directs the creation of a centralized portal the public can use to file FOIA requests electronically;
  • Establishes a Chief FOIA Officers Council to develop recommendations for increasing compliance and efficiency in responding to FOIA requests, and to identify, develop and coordinate initiatives for increasing transparency and compliance with FOIA’s requirements;
  • Requires that agencies post electronically records that have been requested three or more times;
  • Requires that agencies allow a minimum of 90 days for requesters to file FOIA appeals; and
  • Limits the deliberative process privilege to records that are less than 25 years old.

In conjunction with the bill signing, the White House also announced additional initiatives to continue to improve transparency. As part of this effort, the White House asked the members of the FOIA Advisory Committee to look broadly at the challenges that agency FOIA programs will face in light of an ever-increasing volume of electronic records, and chart a course for how FOIA should operate in the future.

The National Archives launched the FOIA Advisory Committee to allow agency FOIA professionals and requesters to collaboratively develop recommendations to improve the administration of FOIA. As I shared with you in April, the first term of the FOIA Advisory Committee ended on a high note when the Committee unanimously voted to support its first recommendation to improve the FOIA process. The Committee’s development of a consensus recommendation is an important milestone because it shows how agencies and requesters can work together to improve the FOIA process.

The second term of the FOIA Advisory Committee will kick off on July 21 with a meeting in the National Archives’ William G. McGowan Theater. Please visit the Committee’s webpage for information about future meetings and the Committee’s work.

We welcome Congress’s bipartisan, bicameral work to advance transparency, and the President’s new initiatives.

Magician of the Week #43: Carina Allston

This week’s magician, mentalist Carina (assisted by George Allston), is hailed as “bewildering!”, “amazing!”, “intriguing!”, and “new and different!”.

Here she is, blasting forth from somewhere in the midwestern U.S., all without losing her composure or the thing tossed artfully over her shoulder:


I really like that the newspaper nameplates/ mastheads are arranged roughly geographically.

This promotional flyer, from our John H. Percival Collection, indicates that the Allstons hailed from Boston, although I can’t find any further information about them online. Do you know more about Carina and her assistant? Let us know!

Bad Children of History #26: Naughty Newsboys

Our latest bad children of history, from Ned Nevins, the News-boy; or, Street Life in Boston (1867), have instigated a snow ball riot, pelting unfortunate adults before the police arrive to calm the fray.


The accompanying text is terrific:

Now some ladies and gentlemen pass the crowd to enter the building; when, plump, plump, plump, the snowballs strike against the door before them, and dash into their faces. “Oh dear! they are killing me; I am all covered with snow; open the door, let me in; I shall die!” cries one lady, leading half a dozen others, who are muttering the same complaint. “Oh the rascals! they ought to be hung,” cries another: “they have spoiled my new bonnet.” Still another, “Oh dear! the snow is running down my neck. Oh! my bosom is full of snow.”

Lest one fear that author Henry Morgan, P.M.P. (Poor Man’s Preacher) reserved all of his contempt for the haughty upper classes, he immediately begins a (fictional-version-of-him)self-congratulatory screed about the problems of immigrants.

Rev. R. C. Waterston rose to speak. He started night schools in Boston, thirty years ago. What a change in thirty years! Whole streets and neighborhoods have given way to the foreign population; ancient land-marks are fast disappearing; Puritanism is becoming a thing of the past. America’s destiny rests on the tide-wave of foreign immigration: the problem of her future is involved in these boys. Now is the time to solve the question,–shall they overwhelm us? or shall we Americanize them?

Most of them are Catholics, averse to free schools and American ideas. Puritan principles are an offence unto them: their watchword is, “Papacy and Democracy.”

How… complicated. Who was this poor man’s preacher with such a deep commitment to immigrants and such a strong disdain for Catholicism?

Henry Morgan, according to my research, was a well-known preacher and social reformer. After the Methodist Church repeatedly refused to approve him for ordination, he moved to Boston in 1859, where he created his own denomination and began preaching in the Boston Music Hall. Morgan was soon drawing crowds with his powerful and theatrical oration. By May of that year, he had founded the Boston Union Mission Society in the South End, offering night classes to newsboys who couldn’t attend school during the day.

Based on his experiences preaching to and teaching Boston’s working immigrants, Morgan wrote Ned Nevins, the News Boy: or, Street Life in Boston in 1867. The book was so popular that it went through four editions in the months after its first publication. (You can find a scathingly sarcastic review, including such gems as “There is no ignorance in Boston. Everybody knows something about everything, there are a good many who know everything about something, and a few of the very first chop who know everything about everything” in The Round Table no. 140 from September 28, 1867. It’s truly superb. “We are puzzled to conceive how one would go about flattering a Bostonian.”)

You can read more about Henry Morgan in Benjamin Hartley’s book Evangelicals at a Crossroads: Revivalism and Social Reform in Boston, 1860-1910.


If you’re stumped for a topic for an academic paper, may I suggest a critical analysis of the post-snowball-riot chapter in this book entitled “Creatures in the Coal-Dump”? In this chapter, Ned goes coal-picking at the dump to repay the kindness of a woman who cared for him while he was sick. A rich woman’s African American “contraband cook”, seeking Ned, finds him here among “vagrants [who] are among the lowest classes of mamifferous species… the lowest, debased, most abject specimens of depraved humanity that ever swept on the tide-wave of foreign emigration.” (No, Henry Morgan, tell us what you really think!)

The cook, Dinah, complains that the trash-pickers are able-bodied and ought to find jobs, for slaves have enough self-respect not to do such degrading and dirty work.

“See that udder woman, scratchin’ and pawin’ in de dirt, just as if she lubbed it. Show me a slabe dat would do dat, heh? See dat great strong man, dat great lazy lubber! what he do here? Why ain’t he to work? He could earn a heap ob money. He be right in de prime ob life; an’ dar he be pickin’ leetle bits ob coal… if a nigger down Souf be idle an’ lazy like dese folks, massa sell him to de fust buyer.”

I couldn’t begin to untangle the complex logic, societal values, loaded attitudes, and Reconstruction-era politics that are at work in this mind-boggling chapter, but I do encourage readers to seek it out in its entirety on the Internet Archive or by visiting us in person.



American Institute for Conservation and Canadian Association for Conservation joint conference

In May, I attended the annual conferences of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) and Canadian Association for Conservation (CAC), a large, joint conference in Montreal. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Florence flood, a disaster which inspired many people to become conservators, the theme was disaster preparedness. Here are a few of the highlights.

Cover of the conference program

Cover of the conference program.


I attended a full-day workshop on Digital Assessment Techniques for Video. The instructors were Kelly Haydon, Peter Oleksik and Erik Piil. We had a chance to try different types of software used to evaluate digital video files. We can use this in many situations, for example, if

  • we’ve sent out analogue video for digitization and we want to check that the vendor followed our specifications
  • we’ve acquired a lot of born-digital video files from a donor that seem to be the same content and we need to decide which ones are best to keep. One file might be compressed in a way that loses information, another might be compressed losslessly, for instance. One file might be the European standard rather than the North American one.
  • we have acquired born-digital video files that we suspect are corrupt, we should be able to tell if the problem is with the file, our playback software, or our playback hardware
  • we have acquired born-digital video files that have been damaged, perhaps inadvertently saved to the wrong pixel aspect ratio so they look weird on screen: we should be able to identify that problem and fix it

Several days before the conference started, we had to install the software onto a Mac. This software included:

  • QCTools, which enables inspection of many video signal characteristics
  • FFmpeg, a command-line program which can be used to correct video errors very precisely
  • MediaInfo, which displays detailed information about a video file in many different ways
  • DV Analyzer, a quality control tool developed by AVPreserve just for DV video streams
  • Hex Fiend, a hex reader and editor capable of working with very large files
  • VLC media player, which allows us to play back video under different conditions (such a changed aspect ratios) without making any permanent changes

We were able to work with sample video files that the instructors gave us. Some of the exercises produced long lists of properties and some of them produce visual representations of the video files.

Screenshot from QCTools

Screenshot from QCTools.


Kaslyne O’Connor gave an excellent talk on Tek Wipe, a product which has a wide range of uses in conservation. It’s recommended by AIC’s Sustainability Group because it can be re-used almost indefinitely if it’s used carefully.

Tek wipe box

It’s a high-tech rag that comes in sheets or on a roll. Conservators often use tools made for other professions or industries.

Kaslyne explained what the material is: a pure blend of cellulose and polyester fibres. Water jets are used to bind the fibres together (known as “hydro-entangled”). The material is extremely absorbent, flexible and washable, and can be dried to its original flat, unwrinkled state. She compared its performance to cotton blotters and Tek Wipe is far superior in wet strength, lack of permanent dimensional changes and shorter drying time.

She also surveyed many reported uses for this material. Tek Wipe is useful for

  • disaster recovery, and it’s easy to interleave between sheets of wet paper
  • surface cleaning. It will pick up dirt from surfaces (like glass plate negatives) without leaving little fibres behind.
  • The sheets can be dampened or wet out evenly and used to humidify many types of materials.
  • It’s better than blotters for blotter washing or slant washing, which pulls discolouration from materials without having to immerse them. It’s also great for washing on a suction table.

Kaslyne finished by presenting a few case studies where Tek Wipe had been used.

Atlas of Water Damage on Inkjet-printed Fine Art

An important part of solving problems is finding a common vocabulary for describing those problems. The Image Permanence Institute had the first copies of its new publication, Atlas of Water Damage on Inkjet-printed Fine Art by Meghan Connor and Daniel Burge, available at this conference.

Cover of the publication

Cover of the publication.

This book provides names for different kinds of damage, along with descriptions of what that damage looks like, and images at various magnifications to show the damage.

image of blister

Microscopic view of blistering on a polymer coated resin-coated print. Page 23.

This vocabulary applies to all kinds of inkjet media, including photographs. A book about damage could be a depressing read, but as you can see the illustrations are beautiful as well as informative.

This joint conference provided us with much up-to-date and useful information as well as hands-on experience.

Glenway Wescott’s Images of Truth

Breaking a seventeen year silence, Glenway Wescott talks about his new book, Images of Truth, at this 1962 Books and Authors Luncheon. The gap seems almost as much a topic of conversation as what he chose to end it with. Referring to “my odd, sporadic, but persistent career of literature,” Wescott reminisces about last appearing at one of these promotional events in 1945. His book consists of essays and remembrances of six authors: Somerset Maugham, Colette, Isak Dinesen, Thornton Wilder, Thomas Mann, and Katherine Anne Porter. How did he settle on these six? “Time and chance.”

Maugham, he disarmingly reports, has never much liked Wescott’s fiction, telling the then young writer he had a better chance of becoming a good essayist, if he worked at it. He goes on to sketch in rather vague terms the nature of their relationship. Katherine Anne Porter, on the other hand, seems to be more of a friend. He describes what a hard time she had making a living while working away on her novel Ship of Fools. Now, with its success, she is “like an old oil prospector who finally strikes a gusher.” But she is having tax problems, he confides, having spent a large share of the book’s profits on an emerald. It would have been a small emerald if she had made money earlier, but as she told Wescott, “with every year I had to wait for it, it got bigger and bigger.” 

Glenway Wescott (1901-1987) is one of the enigmas of mid-century American literature. A promising novelist and short story writer, he went silent after the publication of Apartment in Athens in 1945. The book he is introducing at this luncheon was a collection of older pieces, some written many years before. It led to no more works of fiction or non-fiction, although Wescott’s journals were published after his death. The silence is puzzling as it was hardly due to lack of recognition or literary connections, both of which he had in abundance. As the New York Times noted in its obituary:

Mr. Wescott, who was a former president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, achieved literary acclaim when he was 26, with the publication of his second book, ”The Grandmothers.” The novel, the saga of a pioneer family transplanted from New York State to Wisconsin in 1846, was the Harper Prize Novel for 1927 and became a best-seller. Constantly in print, the book was re-issued last year by Arbor House. ”He was a very important writer, very much in this country like E. M. Forster in England,” said a professor of English at Trenton State College, Hugh Ford, who is writing a biography of Mr. Wescott. ”He wrote only a few novels, some short stories, essays and reviews, but everything he wrote was done in high style – almost Flaubert-like in certain ways, and one of the finest stylists in recent years.”

One possible explanation for Wescott’s reticence could be an unwillingness to depict the unconventional personal life he led. With Monroe Wheeler, Director of Exhibitions and Publications at the Museum of Modern Art and the photographer George Platt Lynes, he maintained an open three-way homosexual relationship which would have scandalized the literary establishment, not to mention the reading public, of the day. But many other writers of the time found ways around such restrictions. The novelist Michael Cunningham, quoted on the website Open Letter Monthly, gives perhaps the most sensible answer.

“There is, to my knowledge,” Cunningham writes, “little information about why he stopped writing fiction, though I tend to believe that writers who stop writing do so for reasons ultimately as mysterious as those that drove them to attempt writing in the first place.”

As for the journals, they consist largely of narrating an active, if not hyperactive, social life featuring such a star-studded cast that the charge of name-dropping becomes a danger. Howard G. Williams, reviewing one of these volumes in Lamda Literary, suggests:

…ultimately, perhaps Wescott felt that he might enjoy indulging in an active intellectual and sex life…more than in creating a fictional world, in the journals, he states, “I live novels instead of writing them.”

It is difficult to say if this reasoning is the creative artist’s ultimate hubris or the result of a triumphant untangling of whatever initial neuroses moved a person to try making art in the first place. 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150273
Municipal archives id: LT9470

95%: Describing the National Archives’ Holdings

The National Archives Catalog has reached a milestone: we now have 95% of our holdings completely described at the series level in our online catalog. This is a monumental achievement. Why? Because the National Archives holds over 13 billion pages of records, and we are adding hundreds of millions of pages to that total every year.

Describing our records in the online Catalog means that the information for all of those holdings is in one central place for researchers anywhere to search and browse, and is vital to our strategic goal to Make Access Happen. Description enables us to provide the archival context of records as they are shared and re-used by researchers, citizen developers, and the public.

We’ve come a long way since our first online catalog was released in 2001. By 2003, only 19% of our holdings were described online for the public to view. This means that without coming to an archives facility or contacting reference staff, the public could only be aware of 19% of our records. We know how difficult this made archival research.

National Archives Holdings Described 2003-2016

Describing our records also ensures that our archival holdings fit into an archival hierarchy. At the highest level of that hierarchy are Record Groups and Collections, and beneath those are Series. Beneath Series are more granular description levels – File Units and Items. When we say we have 95% of our holdings described, we mean at the Series level.

records hierarchy

For example, the series Photographs of American Military Activities, ca. 1918 – ca. 1981 consists of photographs documenting American activity, the bulk of which is military, from 1918 to 1981. You can see the robust level of description in this series identifying the hierarchy of records, dates, finding aid information, as well as scope and content notes. From this series description, you will also find a link to the items and digital objects in this series that are also currently described in the catalog. By reaching 95% series description, we have improved the ability for the public to be aware of and access our records.

The credit for describing our records goes to the over 500 archival staff at National Archives locations across the country. These locations include 13 Presidential Libraries, the Center for Legislative Archives, and 20 other archival units from our Washington, DC-area and regional facilities. The hard work and archival expertise of these staff were indispensable to the effort to describe to 95%, and we would not be here without them! Thank you all for your hard work and for your public service describing the primary sources for America’s history.

Just because we’ve reached 95% doesn’t mean our work is done. Our holdings continue to grow each year as we constantly receive new records. Our plan for the foreseeable future is to maintain 95% described as our overall holdings continue to grow, while working to add more lower level descriptions as well. To do this, archivists will continue to actively describe our remaining records, and will complete descriptions as new records are accessioned. We are committed to continuing to provide online access to as many of our records as we possibly can.

Description of the records of the National Archives is vital to our strategic goal to Make Access Happen. Without description, the public will not have enough information to access and make use of the records. Fundamental to the archival profession, description shines a light on our holdings so the public can search and make use of the records of the National Archives, increasing transparency and accountability in our democracy.

Now on Exhibit: Portals art!

While the Portals exhibition (February – June 2016) showcased historical items describing imagined futures, local artists were hard at work researching in Special Collections and creating derivative art, both through programming at the library and in their own studios.

We’re lucky to have our exhibit cases jam-packed with selections of this Portals art, on view at the library now through August 15th!


Left to right: miniature dress and headdress created by teens in RISD CE fashion classes at the library; 18th century French funeral invitation from the Barrois Collection of Funeral Invitations, alongside a candle by Burke & Hare Co.; drafts, color separations, and layout notes from the Special Collections-themed issue of The Providence Sunday Wipeout.

The exhibit includes illustrations, song lyrics, candles, comics, letterpress prints, short stories, headdresses, and clothing designs by Rhode Island artists including Walker Mettling, Mickey Zacchilli, Brian Whitney, Dan Wood, Caitlin Cali, Guy-Maly Pierre, Dailen Williams, Jim Frain, Joe DeGeorge, Veronica Santos, Burke & Hare Co., Jeremy Ferris, Keegan Bonds-Harmon, and many teen fashion designers.

New creative works are displayed alongside the historical items that inspired them, including Maukisch’s Das Jagen, Fangen, Zähmen und Abrichten der Thiere (1837), The Necropolis of Ancón in Peru (circa 1880), design classic The Grammar of Ornament (1856), Academie Universelle des Jeux (1824) (from the Haynes Checkers Collection), Rational Recreations (1794), and other gems from the stacks.


Some of these artists’ original items are available for sale. (The library doesn’t receive any proceeds from these sales, but we are thrilled to support local businesses and Rhode Island artists!) You can purchase Burke & Hare Co’s Horace B. Knowles candle here, or their Repose en Paix candle here. To get a copy of the Special Collections-themed issue of The Providence Sunday Wipeout comics newspaper, visit Ada Books in Providence or contact Special Collections!

Wallace Monument Anniversary Exhibition

The Library has contributed three items of Wallace Monument memorabilia to an exhibition at the Wallace Monument. It is 155 years since the foundations of the Wallace Monument were laid. The Victorian Masterpiece exhibition on the third floor of the Monument contains exhibits which have been crowdsourced from local museums, libraries and private owners. This is what we contributed:

  • Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the lake, 1869 edition bound in mauchline ware, photograph of the Wallace Monument on the front cover. The Wallace monument was completed in 1869.
  • A 1930s panorama of views from Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, published in Stirling by R. S. Shearer.
  • William Power’s Wallace Monument: the official guide, published in the 1950s.


To find out more about the Wallace Monument and the exhibition see

If you visit, remember that it’s on the third floor, reached by a narrow spiral staircase – wear sensible shoes!





Helen Beardsley


Remembering the Cheap, Tawdry, Downright Immoral Times Square

When you walk shoulder to shoulder through Times Square—where it looks like the sun is out at any hour of the day—it is difficult to imagine that this modern, Disneyfied tourist convergence was once a gritty, run-down hub for pornography and crime.

In this 1961 speech given to the West Side Association of Commerce, Monsignor Joseph A. McCaffrey, the Reverend at the nearby Church of the Holy Cross, laments the immorality of Times Square as “the greatest retail market of pornography in America”.

McCaffrey does not blame the “ever alert” police department, but rather the judicial system for enabling the proliferation of these establishments and calls on the city to revoke the licenses of such businesses. He concludes by associating the rise of sex crimes to juvenile delinquents:

We all deplore juvenile delinquency, and while we do not maintain that pornographic material is a basic cause of juvenile delinquency, still we maintain that it is a contributory cause, and certainly it is a cause for the alarming increase of sex crimes in our city and in our country. And so it is our hope tonight that the West Side Association of Commerce, despite all discouragement, will continue in their efforts to bring back to Times Square a semblance of public decency.

The recording begins with Judge Owen McGivern, Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court, who presents an award to Monsignor Joseph A. McCaffrey for his “great struggle to cleanse and uplift the west side area particularly Times Square, for his unending battle against the cheap, the tawdry, the downright immoral.” McGivern was presumably an important ally against lower court judges who, in McCaffrey’s eyes, showed immoral leniency to Times Square criminals. According to McGivern,”…we are told that some nights the man in the moon blushes for shame when he sails over Times Square west of 42nd street.”

In a 1968 New York Times article, on the occasion of McCaffrey’s retirement, “…he was forced to acknowledge that the Great White Way was ‘worse than ever.’ He admitted discouragement and added that he was leaving the challenge to younger men.” It took four decades to transform the seedy Times Square into today’s LED monument to commercialization. With cooperation from city government and private investment in the 1980s, reputable businesses began to move back in, “legitimate” theaters were renovated on Broadway, and the pornographers were ushered out. 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150464
Municipal archives id: LT9437

Camping Out

1873 Camping Out by C. A. StephensWith summer heat now upon us here in Amherst, many a thought is turning to tents and s’mores.

How did camping come to hold such a central place in the dominant national narrative of summertime? I’m pretty sure that anyone in the town of Amherst 200 years ago would have been deeply perplexed by the idea of voluntarily sleeping in the wilderness in a canvas tent just for fun (in fact, the even concept of “leisure time” and using it for “fun” would have been quite suspect).

I pulled together a handful of books from the archives to look at the questions of “How did camping get to be a thing?” and “For whom?”

1883, Camping in the Alleghanies; or, Bodines by Thad S. Up De Graff
1882, Camps and Tramps in the Adirondacks by A. Judd Northrup

In the mid- to late-nineteenth century, with rising industrialization in the east and the slow end of the frontier era in the west, dominant American culture became obsessed with masculinity. Fears that scholars and theologians were becoming weak, anemic, book-bound push-overs gave rise to the “Muscular Christianity,” anthropometry and physical education movements

1905 Camp Fires in the Wilderness by E. W. Burt

1905 Camp Fires in the Wilderness by E. W. Burt

(which played central roles in the history of Amherst College). Native Americans were re-cast in the popular (white) imagination from enemy #1 to romantic, historically-distant “noble savages.” Even the popular conception of nature itself slowly shifted from a brutal force to be subdued to an idyllic, primal Eden to be communed with (and later still to a feminized Mother Nature to be protected). Popular heroes were no longer statesmen and religious leaders, but frontiersmen and cowboys in the Davy Crockett mold. Camping, along with other outdoor pastimes like hunting and fishing, became a way for elite, white men to display their masculine prowess, as the explosion of books about all three topics during this era clearly documents.

1909, The Book of Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart
1918, Tenting To-night by Mary Roberts Rinehart
1908, The Way of the Woods by Edward Breck

1916, Camping on Mount Mitchell, issued by the Southern Railway

1916, Camping on Mount Mitchell, issued by the Southern Railway

In the following decades, outdoorsiness trickled down to the middle class with the establishment of the Boy and Girl Scouts and growing access to travel and consumer products (like tents and camp stoves). Women were increasing included, but, as a leisure activity, camping remained (and remains) a very white pursuit for a variety of reasons including segregation of parks and

1961, Complete Book of Camping by Leonard Miracle with Maurice Decker

1961, Complete Book of Camping by Leonard Miracle with Maurice Decker

campgrounds and the very real risk of racial violence in secluded, largely white environments.

The Civilian Conservation Corps during the great depression greatly expanded the facilities at many National Parks and new advertising campaigns after World War II began selling camping to families as a part of the wholesome American identity.

Amherst College’s Special Collections can be used to look at a wide variety of questions around cultural interpretations of nature and people’s relationships to it. I would recommend the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection, the Frederick Lane Angling Collection, the Charles M. Adams Southern Appalachian Mountain Collection, and the many other natural history collections in our holdings.

And for those who could do without camping entirely? We’ve got you covered too:

1875, Popular Resorts and how to Reach Them by John B. Backelder

1875, Popular Resorts and how to Reach Them by John B. Backelder



If War Comes to NYC, We’ll Take Care of the Homeless

We’ll Take Care of the Homeless is the—to a modern listener—misleading title of this 1942 broadcast. The “homeless” in question are, in fact, those whose homes would be destroyed if the Nazis bombed New York City! Welfare Commissioner William Hodson is questioned by radio journalist Elmer Davis about the city’s preparedness plans should Hitler attack. Emergency Centers will be set up, staffed by regular Department of Welfare workers. Cash allowances will be handed out to people who need to shelter in hotels or travel to relatives. Lists of affordable rental units will be provided. Emergency clothing needs will be met by the WPA Clothing Project. Hodson goes out of his way to defend this particular program against critics who call it “…another one of those boondoggling projects. To me, it is one of the greatest services that the WPA has rendered.” Davis, recalling Blitz-ravaged London, asks how people will find friends and family members lost during the chaos. Hodson says central registry points will be set up. Sensitive, it would appear, to charges that his agency is wasteful, he emphasizes that no new staff has been hired. Workers who live near the emergency centers will be on duty there at night. The program ends with a call for volunteers in the event of an emergency to register now at the Civilian Defense Office.

William Hodson (1891-1943) was a career social worker at a time when that field was in its infancy. As the website SNAC reports:

In Minnesota he was instrumental in establishing the laws that became Minnesota’s Children’s Code. He moved to New York City in 1922 and joined the Russell Sage Foundation, first as director of its Division of Child Welfare, then as director of its Dept. of Social Legislation. He was the executive director of the Welfare Council of New York City from 1924 to 1934 and was Commissioner of Welfare from 1934 to 1943.

To be New York’s Commissioner of Welfare during the depths of the Depression could not have been an easy task. The Brooklyn Eagle, in its obituary, notes:

Mr. Hodson had one of the most gigantic relief problems in the nation. … He took a vigorous stand against those who contended those on relief rolls were too lazy or dishonest to work.

A few months after this broadcast, Hodson took a leave of absence to join UNRRA, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. In January 1943 he was killed in a plane crash over Surinam. Mayor LaGuardia told the New York Times that Hodson’s death was “one of the greatest blows that has come to me in a long time.”

Elmer Davis (1890-1958) rose from being a well-respected newspaper journalist to become what we would now consider a “radio personality” during World War Two. The website Radio Days relates how:

…Ed Murrow wrote to Davis, “I have hopes that broadcasting is to become an adult means of communication at last,” said Murrow. “I’ve spent a lot of time listening to broadcasts from many countries . . . and yours stand out as the best example of fair, tough-minded, interesting talking I’ve heard.” An example of Davis’ tough-minded talk was his broadcast recommending the government organize news information under one organization. This would prompt FDR to create the Office of War Information, which Davis would be asked to head. Though reluctant at first, Davis finally accepted. Davis always thought of himself as a writer first, but eventually managed to create a powerful organization with one goal in mind: “This is a people’s war, and the people are entitled to know as much as possible about it.”

After the war, Davis was conspicuous for speaking out against McCarthyism. He portrayed himself on film and narrated an Emmy-award-winning television show before dying of a stroke in 1958. 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150197
Municipal archives id: LT4724

New Yorkers at Work: The Complete Series

New Yorkers at Work was an eight part miniseries that aired on WNYC November 9-19, 1981. It was a co-production of WNYC and the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, created and directed by Wagner Labor Archives Head Debra Bernhardt. The series tells the story of twentieth century New York from the perspective of the men and women who took part in the labor movement during that time, drawing from oral histories created through a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities. The above audio is a composite of all eight episodes of the series in order, with a short gap between each episode, with each episode focusing on a particular era or a common theme in the history of the labor movement. To listen to each each episode individually, click on the links below. The series page is available here.

The episodes:

    Life Under a Hardhat: A Question of Skill
    Greenhorn Dreams Lost and Earned: Immigrants at Work
    Hard Times and Picket Lines: The 30s and the CIO
    Solidarity Asunder: Labor After the War
    Climbing that Ladder: Jobs and Opportunity
    Bargaining, Bailout, Burnout: Public Employees and the Service Crisis
    Sixty Words per Minute: Clerical Workers Have Their Say
    Where Have All the Jobs Gone: The Eighties

Digitization project priorities, 2016-2017

The University Libraries Digital Projects Priorities Team met on Wednesday 22 June and approved the following priority projects for 2016-2017:

New projects:

Good Medicine: Greensboro’s Hospitals and Healers, 1865-2015
This LSTA-funded project will digitize over 47,000 documents, photographs, and other items related to the growth of medical practice and institutions in Greensboro and will include materials from the Cone Health Medical Library, the Greensboro Public Library, and the Greensboro Historical Museum in addition to the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives at UNCG.

This grant is made possible through funding from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources.

Women’s Professional Association Records
Contains meeting minutes, agendas, correspondence, and organizational records from the Women’s Professional Forum, a local women’s organization that was founded in Greensboro in 1977. The forum has presented UNCG with a donation to defray the cost of digitization.

Early Cello Manuscripts and Published Works
The pieces selected for this digital project are among the earliest and rarest works found in the Cello Music Collection. In many cases, UNCG is the only library or archive worldwide with the holdings for these editions which date to the 1700s.

Peter Paul Fuchs Papers
Peter Paul Fuchs (1916-2007) was a conductor, composer, teacher, and a significant figure in the performing arts history of Greensboro. Materials too be digitized and included in the Cello Music Collection include 74 unpublished music scores and parts, totaling more than 1600 pages.

North Carolina Alpha Delta Kappa Collection
ADK is an international honorary organization for women educators and these scrapbooks (dating 1954-1994) represent a completely unique view of the activities of a women’s organization.

Ongoing projects:

Cone Hospital Collection
This project, undertaken through the financial support of Cone Health, involves digitizing some 15,000 photographs and other documents that chronicle the history of Greensboro’s Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital. Target date for completion is December, 2016.

Women Veterans Historical Project
Additional oral histories, photographs, and other items will be added to this extensive digital collection documenting the service of women in the American armed forces, once of UNCG’s most used digital resources.

Maud Gatewood Collection
Gatewood was an instrumental part of the art in North Carolina during the late 20th and early 21st century. As a graduate of Woman’s College, she is also part of our institution’s history. Her entire collection, including thousands of sketches, along with correspondence and other materials, is being digitized.

I Wish To Say
This project will create a digital archive of the “I Wish to Say” project undertaken by UNCG Assistant Professor Dr. Sheryl Oring, and will present images and transcriptions of messages composed and sent through the project since 2004. Target date for completion is December, 2016.

Pre-1923 Children’s Literature
This project encompasses digitizing approximately 100 public domain children’s books from the Early Juvenile Literature Collection, Woman’s Collection, and Special Collections General, some dating to the 1700s.

Metadata and exploratory projects:

We will also be moving forward on:

  • The ongoing metadata cleanup for the American Publishers Trade Bindings Collection.
  • A new project to create more user-friendly and browsable categories for our digital collections.
  • A new project to add rights and usage statements that correspond with the DPLA/Europeana model and offer users a more accurate picture of the rights (and re-use) status of our materials.
Further, we will be working to solicit partners and attract funding for the second phase of the north Carolina Runaway Slave Ads Project, to discover and digitze ads placed between 1840 and 1865.
It’s going to be a busy year!

Kuo Kong Silk Company fonds

Researchers often point to the Sam Kee Company fonds or the Yip Sang family fonds as important records in our holdings that document Chinatown’s history. However, the first group of Chinese records acquired by the Archives was the Kuo Kong Silk Company (國光絲髮公司) fonds. Kuo Kong Silk Company was a retail shop located in Chinatown that operated for over 70 years.

Cover of 1935-1936 catalogue. Reference code AM369-S1--Catalogues of goods for sale.

Cover of 1935-1936 catalogue. Reference code AM369-S1–Catalogues of goods for sale.

The records were donated by Mrs. S. Jackman, proprietor of the company, in 1975 and include business correspondence, financial records and statements, personal correspondence, silk samples and product catalogues.

Label from fabric sample book. Reference code AM369-S1-- Catalogues of silk samples.

Label from fabric sample book. Reference code AM369-S1– Catalogues of silk samples.

The company was founded by Mr. G. Jackman (朱直民) and Mr. Mah Young (馬宗揚) in 1922 and first appeared in the Wrigley-Henderson British Columbia directory in 1925. The company was originally located at 47 East Pender Street and was moved to 27 East Pender Street in 1927. In 1937, the company expanded its business by establishing two subsidiary operations, International Clothing (located at 44 East Hastings Street) as another sales arm, and National Dry Goods Manufacturing (located at Market Alley) as an additional manufacturing outlet. Besides selling silk products imported from China, the company manufactured fine silk dress shirts, sheets, pillowcases, work shirts, restaurant uniforms, and overalls. These goods, plus a wide range of men’s and women’s apparel, were sold along with Chinese curio items. The company continued to operate until 1987.

Storefront of 4 West Pender, summer 1976. Photograph by Paul Yee. Reference code AM1523-S6-F30-: 2008-010.1600.

Storefront of 4 West Pender, summer 1976. Photograph by Paul Yee. Reference code AM1523-S6-F30-: 2008-010.1600.

Although the company was based in Vancouver, its business activities were by no means limited to the city. By 1930, a mail order system was in operation to sell goods across the country. This progressive approach is evident in the company’s records. In order to keep track of customers and promote its products, the company kept very detailed client records and was one of the very few companies in Chinatown that published its own catalogues.

Page from 1935-1936 catalogue. Reference code AM369-S1--Catalogues of goods for sale.

Page from 1935-1936 catalogue. Reference code AM369-S1–Catalogues of goods for sale.

Besides selling their goods nationwide, the company also actively expanded its business from the Chinese community to mainstream society. They even issued English versions of their catalogues. In the catalogues, the company stated clearly that a special bonus would be offered to any customer who could refer a new “westerner” customer to the company.

Page from 1935-1936 English catalogue. Reference code AM369-S1--Catalogues of goods for sale

Page from 1935-1936 English catalogue. Reference code AM369-S1–Catalogues of goods for sale

With a good sales strategy, the company set a successful example for small businesses in Vancouver. Even during the harsh years between 1940 and 1945, according to the company’s balance sheets, its average yearly gross sales income was about $70,000.

Page from fabric sample book. Reference code AM369-S1-- Catalogues of silk samples.

Page from fabric sample book. Reference code AM369-S1– Catalogues of silk samples.

There are many interesting insights to be gained from the records. By reading the company’s 1940 catalogues, we learn that a silk dress shirt was $5.50, a pair of dress pants was $3.75, and a J.A. Henckels 12.5” cutting knife was only $4.25. Moreover, offered a seven-day return or exchange satisfaction guarantee to their customers. The employee records show that in the 1940s a store manager earned $38.46 per week, a clerk earned $15 per week and the standard working hours were 44 per week. In a 1945 staff record, it is startling to discover that over half of the company’s 12 employees were not Chinese.

The Kuo Kong Silk Company records not only supplement the Archives business holdings but also document a successful Chinese business operation in the last century.

[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post appeared in Archives Newsletter Volume 3, Number 1: Spring 2007]

Clifford Burdette: African-American Radio Pioneer

ANNOUNCER: Your city station presents Those Who Have Made Good…a series of programs organized by Clifford Burdette presenting famous Negro personalities to tell about their lives and entertain us with their talents. Each week we bring to this audience Negroes who have made a place for themselves in public life, who have risen from the most humble beginnings to attain a place of significance and consequence in the world of today. And here is Clifford Burdette, who will introduce today’s guest…[1]

Clifford Burdette’s weekly program Those Who Have Made Good premiered on WNYC on May 11, 1941, with actor Canada Lee as his first guest and musical back-up from the Juanita Hall Choir. Lee was then playing the lead in Orson Wells’ production of Native Son at Manhattan’s St. James Theatre. The actor, who had also worked with Wells in the ‘the Negro Macbeth,’ provided Burdette and WNYC listeners with a summary of his earlier career as a violinist, jockey, and prize fighter. He set the tone too for future shows by feeling at ease to discuss the need for black actors to break out of stereotypical roles and praising the work of writers Dorothy and DuBose Heyward, whose work gave African-American actors an opportunity to take on substantive roles. (Together the duo had turned DuBose’s book Porgy into the play Porgy and Bess). In reviewing the opening show Variety saw promise.

Obviously inclined to appeal to Negroes, it should nevertheless get a reasonable following from all groups on its own strength…Among the ten Negro subjects of the shows are genuinely impressive figures. If the scripts and production measure up, the program should prove inspiring.[2]

The year-long Sunday afternoon series became a veritable Who’s Who of accomplished African-Americans in 1941 and 1942. Along with Canada Lee, interviewees included: the poet Countee Cullen (audio above)[2]; the great performer and activist Paul Robeson; singer and actress Georgette Harvey; the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell; aviator James Peck; composer W.C. Handy (see photo below); folksinger, Josh White; tenor Horace R. Mann; actor and comedian Eddie Green; New York City police officer Samuel J. Battle; Bishop William J. Walls of A.M.E. Zion Church; composer, lyricist and playwright Noble Sissle; singer and actor Kenneth Lee Spencer and dancer Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson; activist Max Yergin; soprano Anne Wiggins Brown; conductor Dean Dixon; bandleader Count Basie; actors Musa Williams and Reginald Bean; and groups like The Charioteers and The Golden Gate Quartette.

Burdette’s fifth guest in June was NAACP head Walter White, who described the group as “a fighting organization” waging a long battle against lynching, with some nineteen Supreme Court victories for civil rights.[3] In August, the outspoken theater professor  Owen Dodson called for a new approach to African-American drama saying, “We’ve got to choke that Mammy with her bandanna and take all those ribbons out of the pickaninnies’ hair.” Dodson also read two of his poems, The Lynching and After the Lynching, for which the progressive tabloid PM’s radio reviewer commented, “strong talk for any radio station except the uninhibited WNYC.”[4]  In September, jazz singer and pianist Hazel Scott discussed her career and played an arrangement of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love”.  The New York Amsterdam News called it “the only program on the air which allows Negro artists and professional men to speak the truth about their views on conditions in America today.”[5]

WNYC producer Clifford Burdette in Studio C with James H. Hubert, New York Secretary of the Urban League, and composer W.C. Handy (left) in 1941.
(Daily Worker/Daily World Photographs Collection, Tamiment Library, New York University)

The Sunday program, sponsored by the NAACP,[6] is among the earliest of African-American radio programs devoted to serious interview and discussion.[7]  Burdette is certainly among the very earliest of black radio producers, although no studies or statistics were available until 1947, when the National Negro Congress released a damning report indicating that of the thirty thousand white collar radio jobs in the U.S., there were only two African-Americans in the position of radio director and producer. Those two, as it happens, were Bill Chase and Clifford Burdette, with WNYC’s program Freedom’s Ladder, a show focused on civil rights and race relations.[8] [9] [10]

Burdette was profiled in the January 1942 Daily Worker, the American Communist Party’s newspaper. The piece likens the 27-year-old’s story to a Horatio Alger transformation, although Burdette’s biography is more rags to respectability than rags to riches. Author James Morison quotes Burdette on radio’s early influence on his life.

During my school days in Georgia, I became the boy soprano of the school glee club, traveling over the state reciting poems based on the Negroes of the South. When I was only eight years old, I owned my own radio, buying it with the money I earned selling newspapers. It was a crystal set, but it was good enough for me to hear the voices of Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, and other great Negro singers…

Hearing that Metropolitan Opera star Lawrence Tibbett was coming to Atlanta and wanted “a group of Negro boys to sing spirituals for him,” Burdette managed to get his glee club to sing for the renowned tenor. After high school, Burdette spent a year at Morehouse College and tried, unsuccessfully, to get a position with the WPA Theatre Project. He then worked digging ditches and selling Coca Cola to get by. Eventually, he made his way to New York and contacted Tibbett, who helped him with money and connections. He got a job as a stock clerk at a 14th Street silk store and as he tells it:

I induced WNYC to let me experiment with an interview program, and finally, the NAACP sponsored it. Today it is a popular feature with Negro and white listeners wherever WNYC is heard… My program is dedicated to the progress of the Negro people, to acquaint all of America with our achievements and to promote the cause of true democracy in the United States…[11]

By late May of 1942 Burdette had reached his fifty-fourth show at WNYC and was looking to spread his wings. He wanted to produce a radio salute to African-Americans in the armed forces using some of the celebrities he had interviewed on the station like Noble Sissle and Joe Louis. The Times wrote, “He thinks it ought to be on a national hook-up and is willing to talk it over with any interested party from a network.”[12] While it doesn’t appear he got any calls, he did start a new program on WNEW called All Men Are Created Equal. He described the thirteen-week series as ‘a powerful fight for equal rights for all people.’ Among those appearing were folksinger Josh White, band leader Cab Calloway, and the actors Canada Lee, Zero Mostel and Vincent Price. The program reportedly received a thumbs up First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with the suggestion it be underwritten by the Office of War Information.[13] After its run at WNEW the show moved to WINS for an additional ten weeks and was sponsored by the National Negro Congress.[14] A year later, Burdette joined the production staff at WOR. That was followed by a brief stint in the Army, where he was stationed in Gulf Port, Mississippi. There he staged a production called Wings of Jive at the base camp.[15] Once he was out of the service, 1945 found him back at WNYC, where he teamed up with host Bill Chase to produce Freedom’s Ladder. In a 1946 newspaper interview Burdette described the show this way:

Our show aims to entertain and promote the idea that everyone has a chance to climb freedom’s ladder. You got to be good and you got to work at it. Canada Lee, Joe Louis and Marian Anderson did not get where they are today just because they had ability. They trained; they worked; they struggled and they got to the top.[16] 

Beyond WNYC in 1947, Burdette’s life remains a mystery. If you have any information on him, please contact us.


[1] This appears to be the standard announcer introduction to the program after four months on the air. Earlier introductions spoke of the guests as overcoming “the restrictions imposed by race and environment.”  Special thanks to the New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Radio Scripts Collection.

[2] Radio Reviews, Variety, May 14, 1941, pg. 32.

[3] Burdette, Clifford, Interview with Countee Cullen on Those Who Have Made Good, WNYC, June 22, 1941. A very special thanks to Brenda Flora, Archivist, and the Amistad Research Center, Tulane University for making this rare recording available to us. 

[4] “Walter White Heard On Air,” The New York Amsterdam News, June 14, 1941, pg. 2.”

[5] “Strange Fruit,” PM,  August 25, 1941, pg. 20.

[6] “Battle’s Story on Air Lanes,” The New York Amsterdam News, September 20, 1941, pg. 20.

[7] According to the New York daily PM, the program’s first ten weeks of expenses were paid for by the NAACP, with the following weeks covered by Burdette’s “own meager pocketbook” and many times leaving him “without food for the rest of the day.” PM, November 24, 1941.

[8] “The Negro’s Status in Radio,” 1947, papers of the National Negro Congress cited by Sonja D. Williams in Word Warrior: Richard Durham, Radio and Freedom.

[9] Those Who Have Made Good was not the NAACP’s first program on WNYC. Between November 20, 1929 and July 16, 1930 the civil rights organization had a weekly Wednesday segment of talks by prominent members. The first November program came just two and a half weeks after the premiere of WSBC Chicago’s The All-Negro Hour the first weekly radio variety show featuring African-American entertainers.

[10] On March 16, 1947, the Cultural Division of the National Negro Congress held a radio panel as part of a conference at the Murray Hill Hotel in New York to “survey the position of Negroes” in theatre, radio, screen, music, and advertising. The panel concluded, “Like many of the other institutions in America, radio takes on the segregation pattern of the community, varying from section to section, but never offering true equality of opportunity or of representation of the one-tenth of the population that the Negroes form. Actually radio fosters that pattern [and] is one of the most powerful instruments for doing so. In dramatizations and newscasts, Negroes are seldom mentioned except in the presentation of unfavorable facts out of context. Thus radio strengthens the force of those who prevent Negroes and other minority groups from getting their fair share of political, economic, and cultural equality.” Source: National Negro Congress papers, NYPL, The Negro’s Status in Radio, Summary of Radio Panel, March 1947.

[11] Morison, James,“Success and Clifford Burdette: Negro Radio Impresario at 27,” Daily Worker, January 20, 1942. Reproduced in the Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration, edited by Steven A. Reich, Vol. 3.

[12] “One Thing and Another,” The New York Times, May 29, 1942, pg. X10.

[13] “Cliff Burdette Still Plugging,” The New York Age, October 17, 1942, pg. 5.

[14] “Clifford Burdette Gets WOR Spot,” The New York Amsterdam News, July 24, 1943, pg.20

[15]Jottings,” The New York Amsterdam News, June 10, 1944, pg. 6B.

[16] “SCAD Official Heard on WNYC,” The Baltimore Afro-American, September 14, 1946, pg. 15.


Thanks to WNYC Senior Archivist Marcos Sueiro Bal for his expert signal processing and production work.



Maxwell Taylor and The Uncertain Trumpet

Although he jokes about his editor suggesting that, as a publicity stunt, he “get himself court-martialed,” General Maxwell Taylor has pretty much done the next best thing, ostentatiously retiring as Army Chief of Staff at fifty-eight so as to have the freedom to write his highly critical book, The Uncertain Trumpet, which he is here at this 1960 Book and Author Luncheon to promote. Quoting Clemenceau, “War is too important a matter to be left to the soldiers,” he is in effect going over the head of his superiors and taking his case directly to the American people. His thesis is America’s post-war policy of relying heavily on nuclear missiles has lost its justification. We have no longer have a monopoly on nuclear weapons, indeed there is now a “missile gap” in relation to the Soviet Union, and we have failed develop any anti-missile defenses. Meanwhile “we continue to accept inferiority in the case of ground forces.” Taylor calls for a complete “reappraisal of military policy.” This can only be done by reestablishing civilian control of the military. He speaks of his time as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as one of “endless wrangling” during which nothing was accomplished. He then begins to offer a number of “quick fixes,” including organizational changes and modernization of equipment, before, unfortunately, the recording abruptly ends, completed on a missing transcription disc.

Maxwell Taylor (1901-1987) was as qualified and attractive an example of the American military establishment as one could ever hope to find. As the New York Times described in his obituary:

The tall, ramrod-straight general was a hero in the invasion of Sicily and Italy and, when he parachuted with the 101st Airborne Division into Normandy on D-Day in June 1944, he became the first American general to go into battle on French soil. He was a major figure in the winning of the Battle of the Bulge. General Taylor might as easily have pursued an academic career. He had been a top honors graduate of West Point and later taught languages there. Fluent in several languages, he was as familiar with Virgil and Polybius as he was with Caesar and Clausewitz.

Yet to many historians, as well as participants in the Vietnam conflict, Taylor bears the brunt of responsibility for involving America in a hopeless and unnecessary war. The impetus for recommending the country escalate its mission in a small, strategically insignificant country, can be traced to the very program Taylor is pushing in this talk. With the advent of nuclear weapons, power within the armed forces had shifted to the Air Force, which could deliver bombs. This was a far more cost effective means of defense than maintaining large ground troops which, because of those bombs, might never be necessary in the event of full-fledged global conflict. Taylor, foreseeing the level of Mutual Assured Destruction that would eventually be reached, correctly argued that in the future there would be numerous smaller “brushfire wars,”  for which the Army must be prepared. Shortly after this speech, with the election of Kennedy, Taylor was back in the Army, eventually being appointed Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Critics accuse him of ignoring the other Joint Chiefs’ misgivings about engaging in the sort of small scale war he envisioned and actively sought in Southeast Asia. Kennedy himself was leery of the project. It is unclear how committed he was to sending troops, whereas Johnson felt he had “inherited” the war from his predecessor. As the website for Arlington National Cemetery summarizes:

…General Taylor was accused of intentionally misrepresenting the views of the Joint Chiefs to Secretary of Defense McNamara, and cutting the Joint Chiefs out of the decision making process. Whereas the Chiefs felt that it was their duty to offer unqualified assessments and recommendations on military matters, Gen. Taylor was of the firm belief that the Chairman should not only support the President’s decisions, but also be a true believer in them. This discrepancy manifested itself during the early planning phases of the war, while it was still being decided what the nature of American involvement should be. McNamara and the civilians of the Office of the Secretary of Defense were firmly behind the idea of graduated pressure, that is, to escalate pressure slowly against the N. Vietnam, in order to demonstrate US resolve. The Joint Chiefs, however, strenuously disagreed with this, and believed that if the US got involved further in Vietnam, it should be with the clear intention of winning, and through the use of overwhelming force.

It is difficult to judge, even now that the passions of the Vietnam War have cooled, if Taylor was simply a zealous, well-intentioned patriot or if he let the bruising turf wars among the various branches of the armed forces cloud his judgment. In either event, he had to live with the catastrophic results of his policies. The website Why Vietnam Matters reports that:

…in an interview before his death, Gen. Maxwell Taylor concluded we had failed in Vietnam because “we didn’t know ourselves. We thought we were going into another Korean war, but this was a different country. Secondly, we didn’t know our South Vietnamese allies. We never understood them, and that was another surprise. And we knew even less about North Vietnam.”

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150253
Municipal archives id: LT9000

PUBLIC MEETING TODAY: New PIDB White Paper, “The Importance of Technology in Classification and Declassification”

A public meeting of the PIDB will be held today, June 23, 2016 from 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. at the National Archives Building.  The members will discuss the white paper below:

“The Importance of Technology in Classification and Declassification”
A White Paper of the Public Interest Declassification Board
June 2016

Introduction to the PIDB Declassification Technology Working Group

At the direction of the President, the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) continues to investigate technologies and related policy solutions to transform the security classification system to one capable of functioning more effectively in an increasingly complex information age. [1]  Core to our democratic ideals is the ability for the public to access its government’s records.  The responsibility lies with senior government leaders to develop sound policies and implement technological capabilities that will ensure long-term preservation and accessibility to the nation’s historical records.  Nearly all users of the security classification system agree that it is no longer able to handle the current volume and forms of information, especially given the exponential growth of digital information that is only exacerbating the many challenges facing the system.  As the PIDB has previously noted in all of our reports, we reaffirm that our most important recommendation for developing and ensuring such a system is the adoption of a government-wide technology investment strategy for the management of classified information.  

In support of this recommendation and those commitments found in the President’s Open Government National Action Plans, the PIDB began an in-depth study of agency declassification technology initiatives last year.  In May 2015, we established an informal Declassification Technology Working Group (Working Group) at the National Archives and asked for agency participation in a high-level questionnaire concerning agency preparedness for declassification in the digital age.  We sought support from agency Chief Information Officers (CIOs) when setting up the Working Group in order to highlight declassification technology development as a need for agencies.  We believe the support of agency CIOs is critical to modernizing declassification and making the management of classified information at agencies a priority in planning their information technology programs now and in the years ahead.

The Working Group has representation from technologists at 14 agencies and departments in the Executive Branch.  The PIDB hosted four Working Group meetings in the past year.  These meetings are an opportunity for agencies to share their successes, challenges, best practices, requirements and declassification program needs.  Agenda items covered at these meetings included agencies briefings on their efforts at declassification technology planning, discussions of best practices concerning the management of classified records (including email), the sharing of metadata standards and transfer guidance, and more.  We have received positive feedback from agencies about the usefulness of meeting in this informal Working Group environment; agency technologists are able to work collaboratively, share best practices and discuss new ideas with their inter-agency counterparts on these often overlooked technology challenges.

Now, at the one-year anniversary of the beginning of our Working Group exercise, we have collected some observations and lessons-learned to share from these meetings with the public.  Our goal is to reflect on the progress of the Working Group and plan next steps and potential areas in need of further study.

Finding the Baseline: Where Agencies Stand

Overall, agencies lack appropriate technological investment to support the activities of their declassification and related records management programs.  Most agencies do not possess basic workflow applications to assist human review of records, applications that are readily available in the commercial world.  While one or two agencies are exploring advanced content understanding and analytics as technical capabilities to assist review, the vast majority of agencies lack the most basic technological infrastructure to support simple automation or search technologies to assist in the management of records through the review process.

By policy design, declassification largely operates in an information environment twenty-five years in the past, making paper the dominant review format agencies must prioritize.   Solutions that can assist in managing the large volumes of paper found at agencies and the National Archives already exist in the commercial world.  But implementing these known solutions within government remains elusive and problematic.  Funding for declassification and records management in most agencies is minimal, at best.  What little funding is available supports outdated processes designed in the 1990s in response to the mandates afforded with the onset of automatic declassification.  Prior to the notion of automatic declassification, declassification review occurred ad hoc and inconsistently across agencies.  When adopted and implemented, these 1990s processes elevated declassification review to the program level.  They have served their intended purpose – to institutionalize declassification at agencies – and presently are largely outmoded for managing electronic records.  These 1990s processes will remain in place for the foreseeable future, barring resources for the development of new processes and the adoption of automated workflow tools.

In addition to the challenges of outdated paper-based processes, agencies also lack capabilities to manage the review of special media formats and legacy electronic records, including first generation born-digital records.  As prioritization of records for declassification review largely depends upon records’ age, the coming of “age” of electronic records review is now of serious consequence for agencies, with the added complication that no relief from paper records review appears to be in sight.  Common challenges exist among agencies in managing legacy electronic records, yet there is no serious effort underway to acknowledge or describe these challenges, let alone develop a universal approach or solution.

Other common problems exist concerning electronic records beyond the issue of exponential growth and volume in need of review.  Connectivity, integration and communication of systems that support declassification and records management within and between agencies is fragmented and sparse.  Agencies lack universal metadata requirements and standards for managing declassification.  Requirements and standards are of the utmost importance as declassification is increasingly dependent on the ability of agencies to refer their records to other agencies for equity review.  Agencies must adopt and implement common solutions to these challenges across government; progress of any one agency in building a technological framework to modernize its declassification program is dependent on its ability to interact and share information with its counterparts.

Sharing information among agencies also exposes cultural challenges found in the declassification world.  A common understanding and agreement for how agencies should mitigate risk does not exist.  Agency practices are intolerant of risk and the consequences of not striking a balance between openness and continued secrecy in declassification review are too high for the system to sustain indefinitely, both in resources and credibility.  Today’s information world, including the national security structure, is increasingly dependent on transparency and open source informational content.  Risk management and mitigation must be key elements of forethought in designing technical declassification capabilities, not an afterthought in response to disclosure events.

Next Steps: What Agencies Need

Technological modernization of declassification and its related functional counterpart, records management, will require leadership and resources.  Agencies require both simple workflow tools and advanced content processing, analytic tools and storage/access means. Agencies should integrate declassification reviewers and records managers, organizing for success, to share best practices, manage metadata and efficiently harvest all the capabilities of information age technologies for the benefit of all system users, including policymakers and historians.  Additionally, special media and first generation born-digital records demand serious consideration.  A government-wide investment strategy should consider and build upon those tools in use at agencies with more modernized declassification capabilities, such as the intelligence community.

A phased adoption of sophisticated content analytic solutions should occur, beginning with an increase in the number of pilots used to test these capabilities within declassification programs.  Capabilities, like those developed at the Center for Content Understanding at the Applied Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, should be implemented to a greater extent at agencies. [2]  For most agencies, there is an immediate need to implement automated workflow solutions and basic search capabilities, solutions that largely exist in the commercial world that are readily available for adoption.  Even while grappling with basic workflow challenges, agencies must also seriously invest in advanced content analytic tools.  The sustainability of the system is dependent on agencies exploring advanced content analytic solutions while also solving immediate workflow automation challenges.

Even more importantly, the long-term transformation of the declassification system will require leadership from the White House and a commitment to funding a government-wide technology investment strategy.  The PIDB will continue studying declassification technology investment at agencies with the recommendation that agencies receive the resources they need to make the records of our government accessible to future generations. Our desire is to support policymakers, while maintaining our principle responsibility of responding to the public interest in having an open and transparent government.  We believe the government will only be able to achieve this goal with the adoption of technological capabilities that will modernize the security classification system to function effectively in the current digital information environment.

[1] Memorandum   for   Implementation   of   the   Executive   Order 13526, “Classified National Security Information,” December 29, 2009, 75 FR 733, Document Number E9-31424.

[2] At the request of the CIA and the National Archives, the Center for Content Understanding at the Applied Research Laboratories at the University of Texas at Austin piloted decision- support technology for records declassification review and release.  The pilots successfully yielded a Sensitive Content Identification and Marking (SCIM) tool that uses a combination of natural language processing, expert systems, machine learning and semantic knowledge representation to identify sensitive content in textual information found in classified email records.  The SCIM tool is the only tool of this level of sophistication being explored for the sole purpose of aiding decision-support in classification and declassification.

ANNOUNCEMENT: New Presidential Appointees

Yesterday evening, the President announced his intention to appoint Trevor W. Morrison and James E. Baker to each serve three-year terms as members of the PIDB.  The President also named Mr. Morrison as the new Chairperson.  You can find a link to the White House press release announcing the appointments here.  The members of the PIDB look forward to working with Mr. Morrison and Mr. Baker as they continue their study and work on transforming the security classification system.

A College Responds to the Spanish ‘Flu Outbreak of 1918-19

Archaeologists – at least the ones in our archives – had a knack for using whatever came to hand for their own purposes. This often leads to the preservation of surprising nuggets of social history wedged in between the archaeological research, photographs and correspondence.

This week, a volunteer working on the lantern slide collection found a piece of postcard re-used as a section divider for maps of Asia in a lantern slide draw. The postcard had been sent to Professor John Myres’ home address on Banbury Road.

box 354001On the other side of the card was a summons to a College meeting to discuss ‘the question of inoculation against influenza’:

box 354002

In the autumn and winter of 1918-19, the influenza pandemic had led to unprecedented death rates. One of the cruelest aspects of the so-called ‘Spanish ‘flu’ was that it hit young adults particularly hard. The ‘flu died down through the spring and summer of 1919, but as winter approached, another wave of the ‘flu struck, causing widespread illness, though this time it was to be less deadly (Shanks and Brundy 2012).

There was very little that medicine could offer to counter the devastating effects of the ‘flu, but there were attempts to find and use inoculations against its lethal impact, as this little card testifies.

You would think, given ‘the question of innoculation’ was the purpose of the meeting, the dons of New College would have prioritized the matter, but in fact, as Jennifer Thorp, archivist at New College found out, the meeting on November 15th spent too much time discussing outstanding business from the previous meeting (on the 11th) to get around to ‘the question of inoculation’, which was instead discussed at yet another meeting on the 19th! Finally, at this meeting:

‘It was agreed to provide facilities at the beginning of the ensuing Lent Term for the inoculation of members of the college against influenza. The Junior Bursar was requested to make recommendations to a subsequent meeting as to the provision for nursing within the college in the event of an influenza epidemic’ (New Coll. Archives MIN/W&F 6, p. 295).’

Jennifer’s research in the archives suggests that little further action was taken, since the Junior Bursar was never called upon to present their recommendations at any subsequent meeting, and student numbers indicate that New College wasn’t badly affected by influenza. There were only 30 students in residence in the Autumn of 1918, when the ‘flu was at its most lethal – most of the College’s men and staff were still involved in the war effort. Numbers rocketed to 135 in the next term, as students were able to return to College and resume their studies.

The question still remains, however – what were the students to be inoculated with? An effective treatment for ‘flu wasn’t discovered until 1933.


Many thanks to New College Archvist Jennifer Thorp for providing information on New College meetings and student numbers.


Killingray, D. and Phillips, H. (2003) The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919: New Perspectives Routledge 

Shanks GD, Brundage JF. Pathogenic responses among young adults during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Emerg Infect Dis [serial on the Internet]. 2012 Feb [date cited].

A Recap of Future Bummers

It’s been more than a week, but we’re still basking in the hilarity and creativity of our 2016 Creative Fellow Walker Mettling’s library story night, “A History of Future Bummers“.


Jeremy Ferris performs a clam-centric ritual in front of his projected illustration. The drawing is based on historical photos of clambakes in the Rhode Island Collection.

During the month of May, Walker asked a number of local artists, writers, and musicians to visit Special Collections, each armed with a research assignment. They then were asked to write a story or create a comic based on their research.


Dailen Williams, Alexander Smith, and Veronica Santos (l-r) share their stories on stage.

These artists’ various creations were showcased at the resulting “A History of Future Bummers.” Writers including Caitlin Cali, Veronica Santos, Dailen Williams, Alexander Smith, Jim Frain, Jeremy Ferris, Keegan Bonds-Harmon, William Keller, and Julia Gualtieri shared their stories, punctuated by musical interludes from Joe DeGeorge. (You can listen to Joe’s sketch demos of these library-based songs here, here, and here. The last one is based on entries about vandalism in our Rhode Island index card catalog!)


Providence Sunday Wipeout cover; “Faces of Narragansett Bay” by Walker Mettling; huge and colorful illustration by Aaron Demuth (clockwise from top left)

The evening also marked the official release of a new, Special Collections-themed issue of the Providence Sunday Wipeout comics newspaper. WOW! Lots of familiar historical items, local lore, and strange tales appeared in illustrated format in this VERY large format publication.


Walker printed the paper in color on a risograph, and a small army of intrepid volunteers taped and folded pages. Thanks to all for their hard work and for a hilarious and highly entertaining evening!

(Stay tuned for more info about seeing drafts and originals of these awesome creations live and in person!)


A Different Sort of Summer Camp

“Real life captured right on the spot,” is the promise of It’s Your Life, a short-lived but innovative radio program that aired during 1949 on WMAQ in Chicago. Taking advantage of then new technology, notably the portable tape recorder, It’s Your Life focused on health-related stories, particularly formerly taboo subjects such a mental illness and birth defects.

In this installment, entitled In the Woods They Walk, three handicapped children are interviewed before, during, and after their experience of attending a special camp for children with disabilities. We meet Dick, a quiet, thoughtful fourteen-year-old who matter-of-factly describes for the audience how, “my right arm is off at the elbow and my right leg is off at the knee. And then my left foot is turned over, a club foot.” Catherine, who suffers from spastic paralysis, is looking forward to camp because “I can’t go up and down stairs so good.” Finally, there is Joe, a chatty ten-year-old, who has “a badly damaged leg from polio.” 

A few weeks later, reporter Don Herbert (later to be TV’s Mister Wizard) visits the children in the woods of Wisconsin. They describe their adventures playing baseball and volleyball as well as taking an overnight trip. Joe has a secret he’s not allowed to tell the reporter. It turns out later he has learned how to shoot a rifle. Dick, more subdued, has had a good time but looks ahead to an impending operation. “They’re going to amputate my leg,” he states flatly, since his club foot provides no support. A camp counselor describes some of the special measures taken to accommodate the children. Upon their return to Chicago, the three are interviewed once again. Catherine feels she is less shy, able to make friends now with the kids on her street. Joe also feels he is less shy, although he admits he “has never been that quiet.” As for Dick, we visit him in the hospital, where he is confined to a wheelchair. He can walk with crutches but looks forward to being fitted with his new leg, which will give him more height. He wants to caddie next year. The show ends with a message for parents of disabled children to call the Community Referral Service if they are interested in sending their child to a special camp for the summer. Next up? Three Alarm Fire, in which Don Herbert rides an ambulance to a burning building.

It’s Your Life was critically well-received but lost its sponsor (Johnson & Johnson) after only one season. Its producer, Ben Park, was an early exponent of the radio documentary. His previous effort, Report Uncensored, won a Peabody and Dupont Award but also failed to retain its sponsor. Faced with the challenge posed by TV, Park both defended and lambasted his medium in Billboard Magazine:

All of a sudden we are asked which is better, radio or television? The answer is that radio has failed to establish itself as an indigenous literary medium. The radio industry has in the main resisted assuming its responsibility inherent in accepting the facts of radio’s enormous potential….If we had been developing an indigenous radio literature that stemmed from the basic limitations and potentialities of the medium we should not have found ourselves in this sorry state.

One can see in this plea an almost heart-breaking misperception of what lay in store for radio. “Literature,” indigenous or otherwise, was of no interest to commercial stations. Park’s thoughtful, edgy docudramas, as we might now call them, were utterly out of step with the subsidiary role to which radio was about to be reduced. Indeed, the next mention we find of him is as producer of The Eddy Arnold Show, a musical variety program…on TV. 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150100
Municipal archives id: LT1968

New Acquisition: the FSU Panama City Collection

Aerial photograph of FSU Panama City, ca. 1987

We are happy to announce HPUA’s latest acquisition of records from FSU Panama City. This collection contains records documenting the history of FSUPC, photographs, AV materials, and other ephemera about the campus.

While ground breaking for FSUPC wasn’t until 1983, FSUPC’s history extends back to the early 1970s. After the Naval Coastal Systems Center, Gulf Coast State College, Bay County School Board, and Tyndall Airforce Base began lobbying for an institution of higher learning, the Florida Board of Regents directed the University of West Florida to establish a center in Panama City in 1972. During that summer, 65 elementary education students and a staff of two began classes, using facilities at the Bay County School Board Office Building and Gulf Coast Community College.

Program from the Dempsey J. Barron Building and the Florida State University Panama City Campus Dedication Ceremony, 1986

By 1976, the Bay County Commissions purchased 17.5 acres between GCSC and the waters of North Bay for use by the center. The Bay County Commission also donated another 2.54 acres and three quadriplex buildings. In 1983, ground was broken for the campus, and it was formally dedicated in 1986.

Since the 1980s, FSUPC has grown exponentially and now offers 30 degree programs, including Electrical Engineering, Information Sciences, Elementary Education, Social Science Education, and Social Work. The campus supports almost 1,500 students and has more than 30 full time faculty members.

To see more photographs, ephemera, and artifacts related to the history of Florida State, check out the FSU Heritage Protocol Digital Collections or like the Heritage Protocol Facebook page.